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The ViewAuckland Review

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Review byMatthew Turner30/01/2003

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 99 mins

Structurally fascinating, emotionally devastating and horrifically violent, this is certain to be one of the most controversial films of the year.

Director Gaspar Noe is no stranger to controversy. His last film, the misanthropic Seul Contre Tous ended up being censored by the BBFC for a scene in which the main character sat in a porn cinema. In the end, the porn images were digitally blurred, but Noe was understandably outraged at the time.

In light of that, it’s tempting to see the genius stroke behind Irreversible –all the action unfolds in single, uninterrupted takes- as an elaborate ploy to defy the censors. At any rate, it worked and the BBFC have seen fit to pass the film uncut.

Rape And Revenge

The plot of the film is purely and simply a ‘rape and revenge’ tale, with the crucial difference that it is filmed in reverse, Memento-style. This means that – after a bizarre, seeemingly unrelated conversation between two men, one of whom may well be the character from Seul Contre Tous - the camera moves out of the window to the nightclub below and the film opens with the lead character, Marcus (Vincent Cassel) being led away by the police.

Moments later, we see the horrifically brutal act of violence that led to his arrest, then Marcus discovering the badly beaten body of his wife Alex (Monica Bellucci, Cassel’s real-life wife), and then the deeply shocking, powerful nine-minute central scene in which Alex is attacked, anally-raped and then brutally beaten after she walks through an underpass.

This, admittedly, is difficult to sit through and there were numerous reports of walkouts when the film screened at both the Cannes and Edinburgh film festivals. However, the structure of the film means that, perversely, Noe provides his film with a “happy” ending, since the film ‘ends’ with Alex and Marcus frolicking in bed and Alex discovering she is pregnant. Which means that if you walk out during the worst part, you miss the happiest parts of the film.

Technical Mastery

Technically, the film is extremely impressive – the swooping camera constantly follows the actors, never cutting away and each scene is at least five to ten minutes long. Similarly, Cassel, Bellucci and Dupontel as their mutual friend (who is roped into Cassel’s revenge attack) are all excellent – their ‘later’ scenes together are immensely tender and believable and you correctly sense that a lot of their scenes were improvised.

No doubt, the central reversal device will be dismissed as an exploitational gimmick – after all, it’s a safe bet that the film wouldn’t merit the same level of attention without it. However, at the same time, it is an undoubtedly unusual experience that forces you to examine the way you experience a film and your reactions to it.

In short, Irreversible is firmly within that category of films such as A Ma Soeur or Requiem For A Dream – films that it is next to impossible to say you ‘liked’, but that remain powerful and impressive nonetheless. It is certainly not a film for everyone, but if you can stomach the violence and are interested in cinema, it demands to be seen.

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Content updated: 17/02/2020 16:45

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